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« "A Letter" [by David Shapiro] | Main | Even Bad Books Have Their Charms [by David Lehman] »

March 04, 2022


Oh, Lera Auerbach, this extraordinary photograph and this extraordinary recounting of lives which I, as a spoiled American, can barely fathom. I am grateful that you came to New York to study music and I am relieved that you stayed. We are so much richer for your brilliant presence amongst us. The people of Ukraine are being bombed, blown apart, and annihilated. This unprovoked onslaught is unspeakable. If you still have relatives in the Ukraine, I pray that they may survive or escape once again.

As a historian and theologian, I must point out that human history repeats itself, over and over again, because of limitations on human perception. From ancient texts to last week's news, it's the same story: Men take themselves for gods and overreach, kill dissenters, abuse women, make fatal mistakes. Their empires rise and fall--and then we die, all of us. My grandparents and their three older children left Dniepropetrovsk in 1905, before the Russian Revolution, when it was still Ekaterinaslav, part of Imperial Russia. They escaped the Russian pogroms and made a new life in New York. Relatives who stayed were never heard from again. In the 20th century, most immigrants wanted to "assimilate" as much and as quickly as possible, especially secular Jewish families whose children learned English in public schools and taught it to their parents. I am only a year younger than Lera Auerbach's mother. This is the first time in many years that I've thought about my distant, historical root in what is now Dnipro. First-generation Americans in my cohort did not identify as "hyphenated" Americans. I've lived in several other countries and speak several other languages, but not Russian or Ukrainian. Nonetheless, I feel for the people under siege, whether they stay or flee. Putin is a dictator who wants to be an emperor, like all other emperors. The only difference is that he is a common thug, not descended from any royal family. It's naive to think he would obey any "rules of war," international treaties, or negotiated agreements between combatants. I understand why heads of state need to be cautious. This could become World War III. Nuclear weapons would destroy much of Europe and create worldwide disaster. When is the CIA going to justify its budget and intervene?

Your essay, Lena, left me speechless in admiration and solidarity. But I eventually managed to muster these few words here. My hope is that they will spur other BAP blog readers to circulate your essay to anyone else with an ear for truth, as I did before writing this comment.

My deepest apology to Lera Auerbach for the typo in my previously posted comment. I meant to write "Lera," not "Lena." I hope my accidental misspelling does not distract in the slightest from the extraordinary power of her words.

Vrag Naroda? Wear it as a badge of honor!

I was sorry to hear about the pain inflicted on your family. I imagine them proud of what you've created since and against the odds.

So this is a photo of your child-mother and young grandparents. So lovely, beautiful and precious memory. Thank you very much for showing us.
I’m so sad some of so-called “dictators” doing the same foolish things again and again and again. Small but peace loving , modest people have been suffering all through the histories. These crazy things should never be done again, now, after 80 years of our efforts. All of us on the world should stop this Madman immediately. The sorrow of your family can’t be wasted behind the history of the human being.

I am also speechless with admiration for your courage and the courage of your family, and heartbroken for the profound suffering and loss which you and your family have endured. Putin's "solution" for Ukraine is genocide, extermination, erasure: the same as Stalin's Holomodor and Hitler's Holocaust. President Zelensky so rightly expressed the truth of where we are today: "Never Again" is absolutely meaningless.

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Truly high moral ground.

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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